High court makes strides toward openness

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Internet has made vast amounts of information available to the masses, but there has been a disconnect when it comes to official documents.

Reporters used to be able to read handwritten "incident reports" in police stations and sheriff's offices, but the advent of computerized record keeping restricted access to the point that those reports are sanitized or altogether unavailable for the press and members of the public.

Written court documents, a matter of public record, have likewise tended to retreat behind an electronic wall, to the point they are available only for a fee, or by sitting at a public courthouse terminal -- two of them in the case of Red Willow County.

Nebraska is rectifying the situation somewhat, by making rulings from the Nebraska Supreme Court and Appeals Court, issued over the past 145 years, available online at www.nebraska.gov/apps-courts-epub/public/supreme .

Until now, people had to visit law libraries or pay fees to legal research companies to find the court decisions.

Climbing printing costs, coupled with fewer sales of hard-bound books and the capability of distributing the decisions electronically finally tipped the scales toward the Internet.

New rulings will be issued only electronically, and the current printing of hard-bound book of rulings will be the last.

Hard-drive crashes and hackers are of concern, of course, and the courts will have to divert the money they used to spend on printing into digital backups of the documents.

Let's hope county courts take the Nebraska Supreme Court's lead in making public documents just as easily accessible, and soon.

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